President Barack Obama vowed Thursday night to pressure Congress to rewrite the nation’s immigration laws when lawmakers return to Washington after the November midterm elections.
“I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done,” Obama said before a crowded gala hosted by the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute in Washington.
Obama said he would act on the issue, but that executive actions alone will not bring about lasting changes to what he called a “broken” immigration system
“I am going to be spending the next month, month and a halfexplaining why immigration reform is good for our economy, and why it's good for everybody,” Obama said to applause.
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Last month, Obama announced that he would not act on immigration until after the election, which will determine which party controls Congress. Republicans are expected to keep their majority in the House of Representatives, but Democrats are in danger of losing the Senate.
The decision infuriated immigration advocates, who had expected a plan for temporary legal status to help some of the 11 million immigrants in the U.S. illegally stay and work.
“Now, I know there’s deep frustration in many communities around the country right now,” Obama said. “And I understand that frustration because I share it. I know the pain of families torn apart because we live with a system that’s broken. But if anybody wants to know where my heart is or whether I want to have this fight, let me put those questions to rest right now. I am not going to give up this fight until it gets done.”
The renewed push was affirmed by members of the Congressional Hispanic Caucus, including Sen. Bob Menendez, D-NJ. “We will continue to fight until immigration reform is a reality,” he said before Obama spoke.
But immigration groups were still disappointed.
“After a series of broken promises and failed commitments, there’s very little the president can say in words now that will repair the damage done by his enforcement-only policies from the past six years,”said Eddie Carmona, campaign manager for PICO National Network’s Campaign for Citizenship. ““Mr. President, our families don’t have until after the elections to wait. We need executive action now.”
Some Hispanic and immigrant advocate groups protested the gala before Obama's speech, criticizing his administration for deporting hundreds of thousands of immigrants who have entered the United States illegally.
“This administration continues deporting people in record numbers and the vast majority of them are no threat to the community,” said Cristina Jimenez, managing director of United We Dream, an advocacy group.
Basav Sen, a 48-year-old immigrant from India who works as a researcher in Washington, said Obama does not take the immigrant community’s concern on rates of deportation seriously enough.
“This is breaking up our families and destroying our communities and it has to stop,” he said as he held a sign labeling the president as a “deporter-in-chief.”
Zenen Jaimes, an activist on gay and lesbian Hispanic issues who protested prior to the speech, said the issue shouldn't be bound by political timetables.
“The reason why we’re out here is to express our frustration with how politics took over this issue,” he said.
In his 14-minute speech at the Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Obama highlighted progress in Hispanic graduation rates and how provisions of the Affordable Care Act have benefited the Hispanic community during his administration. It was the Congressional Hispanic Caucus Institute’s 37th annual awards gala which also commemorated the beginning of Hispanic Heritage Month.